Iran Chooses to Quickly De-escalate After Pakistan Hits Back Hard

Pakistan swiftly retaliated with "killer drones, rockets, loitering munitions and stand-off weapons" to an Iranian military provocation in Balochistan province this week, according to multiple media reports. Pakistanis felt it was necessary to hit back hard to send a loud and clear message to the Iranians to respect Pakistan's national sovereignty. Within hours of the strong Pakistani military response, the foreign ministers of the two neighbors agreed to de-escalate tensions in a phone call. The Pakistani foreign ministry sent out the following tweet after this phone conversation: "Foreign Minister @JalilJilani spoke with the Foreign Minister of Iran, @Amirabdolahian today. Foreign Minister Jilani expressed Pakistan’s readiness to work with Iran on all issues based on the spirit of mutual trust and cooperation. He underscored the need for closer cooperation on security issues". 

Pakistan Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani (L), Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian

In the early hours of Tuesday, Iran fired missiles and drones at an armed group Jaish al-Adl in Pakistan’s southwestern border province of Balochistan. Pakistan in turn struck anti-Pakistan Baloch militant targets inside Iran on Thursday. Pakistan also recalled its ambassador from Tehran and blocked the return of Iran’s envoy to Islamabad. 

The Iranian attack on Pakistan came without warnings at multiple forums where the two sides were engaging each other. Just prior to the Iranian provocation, the Iranian Foreign Minister met Pakistani Prime Minister Anwarul Haq Kakar at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There were also joint navy drills taking place which were quickly abandoned after the surprise attack. 

The only way to explain it is that the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, initiated the attack on Pakistan without consulting with the Iranian government of President Ebrahim Raisi. The IRG also targeted locations in Iraq and Syria. The IRGC works independently of the Government in Tehran. Its commander reports directly to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Late IRGC Commander General Qassem Soleimani 

IRGC appears have been personified by its former leader General Qassem Soleimani who was assassinated by the US military on former President Donald Trump's orders. He was known for his independence from the Tehran government. There were reports in 2018 of then President Hassan Rouhani lashing out at Soleimani during a meeting with several senior IRGC officers in attendance,  accusing him of hiding the truth from the president and even from the supreme leader. Soleimani left the room in anger. Earlier, when the two met during Friday prayers, Soleimani warned the president about the “folly of not increasing the budget allotted to Quds.

Soleimani sat by Imam Khamenei’s side at key meetings, conveying his importance in the eyes of the spiritual leader. He met Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad in February 2019 together with the supreme leader — but without Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, triggering resignation threats by Iran's top diplomat at the time. 

In February, 2019, Soleimani threatened Pakistan. He boasted of Iran's "independent power and honor". He said: "I warn you not to test Iran and anyone who has tested Iran has received a firm response. We are speaking to Pakistan with a friendly tone and we are telling that country not to allow their borders to become a source of insecurity for the neighboring countries..... Iran enjoys independent power and honor. Some countries have wealth, but no prowess. Trump tells the Al-Saud that if it hadn't been for the US support, Saudi Arabia would not have survived and Saudi Arabia's coalitions in the region have all ended in failure." Soleimani's tone in this message to Pakistan is anything but "friendly".

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

South Asia Investor Review

General Soleimani's Hardline Against Pakistan

Iran-Pakistan Ties

Iran's Chabahar and Pakistan's Gwadar Ports

Indian RAW Agent Kulbhushan Jhadav Used Chabahar

Iran-Saudi Conflict

Pakistan's Nuclear Program

Iran Nuclear Deal

1971 India-Pakistan War

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Riaz Haq's YouTube Channel

PakAlumni Social Network


Riaz Haq said…
‘We Have Narratives but No Proof of Balakot’s Success’: Former High Commissioner to Pakistan

In an interview to mark the launch of his recently published book Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship between India and Pakistan, which contains a critical chapter on the Pulwama terrorist attack and India’s retaliatory strike on Balakot, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan at the time, Ajay Bisaria, has accepted that we only have narratives but no proof of the success of the Balakot strike. He added, “You’ll perhaps never know for sure” of how successful the strike was.

In a 35-minute interview to Karan Thapar for The Wire, Bisaria, while discussing his views, said that the terrorists behind the Pulwama attack of February 2019, the fifth anniversary of which will fall next month, “lucked out in getting an unprotected target in a convoy of vehicles” and thus “met with unexpected success”.

Bisaria was asked if he was echoing what Satya Pal Malik, who was the governor of Jammu and Kashmir at the time, told The Wire in an interview last year, when he claimed the terror attack was a result of “incompetence” and “laparwahi” by the Indian system.

The former envoy was also asked what proof exists to corroborate the statement made by the foreign secretary of the time, which Bisaria quotes in his book. The statement is that at Balakot, “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders, and groups of jihadis, who were being trained for fidayeen action, were eliminated.” It was during this part of the discussion that he accepted that we have narratives but not proof of Balakot’s success.

Towards the end of the interview, there is a substantial discussion about Pakistan’s response to Balakot, the shooting down of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varathaman’s MiG-21, and why Pakistan chose to hand him back within a couple of days.

This part of the interview involves a key question about Biswaria’s view that Pakistan “panicked” as well as the facts and developments he cites in his book which suggest that there was a fair amount of panic on the Indian side, too, including a phone call made by then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to the then US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the middle of the night (when she woke him up) because she was worried that Pakistan was preparing to use nuclear weapons against India.

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